Pulling uranium out of seawater could be a cost-effective way to source nuclear fuel, scientists have found, and the technique could pave the way for coastal countries to switch to nuclear power. With the International Atomic Energy Agency currently predicting an increase of up to 68 percent in nuclear power production over the next 15 years, finding a new, more environmentally friendly source of uranium – the most critical ingredient in nuclear power – could give this alternative to fossil fuels a boost. In the form of the isotope U-235, uranium is currently the radioactive element of choice when it comes to using nuclear energy to produce electricity. Right now, about 450 nuclear power plants spread across 30 countries chew through more than 60,000 tonnes of the stuff each year. Pulling uranium out of rocks can have a big impact on the environment, both as a result of digging a great big hole, and through the process of extracting the fuel from the surrounding waste material. Because of that, finding another source for uranium that risks less damage to the environment would also make the power source more environmentally friendly. In the new study, the Stanford researchers found several ways to improve the process of extracting uranium cost effectively, bringing it a step closer to becoming an economically viable industry. This research was published in Nature Energy.
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